Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for what He knew was the last time—His crucifixion was near. Crowds were following Him. Mark tells us: “People were bringing their children to have him touch them but the disciples rebuked them (10:13)”. The Living Bible reads: “They shooed them away.” Obviously in their eyes Jesus was too busy with adults who could understand His message. The little children were unimportant.
“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant (v14)”. Another version says “very displeased”. I would add and very frustrated. Would they never learn?
Just a few days earlier, coming into Capernaum, the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest. Jesus’ response in 9:35,36 is very significant: “Sitting down Jesus called the twelve and said: ‘If anyone wants to be the first he must be the very least and the servant of all’. ‘He took a child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms he said to them: Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”
Here they are, just a few days later, trying to stop little children gaining access to Jesus. No wonder Jesus was indignant!
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to them. I tell you the truth anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like little children will never enter in. And he took the children in his arms and blessed them” (Matthew 18:5).
We may ask, how callous and uncaring were His disciples treating children that way? But are we any different today?
When parents with, say, two small children arrive at our church door for the first time hoping to find a place where their children will meet Jesus, where is our attention?
As a church attendee of many years and a visitor to numerous churches I can vouch that almost universally the parents are the centre of our attention. “Welcome to church this morning. Is this your first visit here? We have a church lunch today we would love to have you join us.” In view of Jesus’ interest in and concern for little children maybe it’s time to update the greeting format.
In the church where I’ve worshipped for many years, the children, especially of visitors but also of our regular members, are the first ones to be greeted. How do parents respond when they are relegated to second place by the greeting team? Affronted? No, they love it.
There is an old saying and it’s very true: “When you take a child by the hand you take a parent by the heart.” Parents have told us that they’ve chosen this church because of the welcome attention that was shown to their children. It is common to see children of two and three years of age leave their parents and run the final metres to the church door to receive their welcome. It’s a heart-warming experience. By their teenage years, these children have developed a warm relationship with their church: they feel they are welcome, wanted and belong.
Today we have a fine group of teens and twenties who are actively involved in church life including the church service. We also have one on our greeting team.
Just recently a 20-year-old shared with one of our greeters: “I would not be worshipping here today were it not for the warm greetings I got when I was a young child and right through my teenage years. I now feel I belong.”
The two-year-old little girl who ran for her greeting is now 13 and preparing for baptism. She and her younger sister still reach the greeters before their parents.
A note handed to a greeter said: “I love my greeting and can’t resist a big smile.”
So choose your greeters wisely. They need an outgoing personality and a genuine love of children. If we give children priority, we may see a lot less of our teenagers exiting the back door if this simple practice is implemented at the front door.